Damsels in Distress we can’t help but love
The Damsel in Distress, the trope as old as storytelling, is also really annoying in this day and age. I mean, I get it. It’s an excellent (and easy) plot device. A girl has been kidnapped by the villain, and so the hero must set off to rescue her. It sets up the conflict of the story and also suggests an implicit reward for the hero whether it be the affection of the damsel and/or her political connections as 9 times out of 10 she is also a princess.
But come on, in the modern era of equal and empowered women, the idea of a helpless woman awaiting you to rescue her is more than a little dated. To save you from rereading the same rhetoric that has been made vocal for at least the last century, pay close attention.
Women. Can do. Things.
It’s as simple as that. However that message does not seem to have been passed on to the women in video games, a large number of whom are happy being distressing damsels. They don’t help in a fight, they never try to escape on their own, they whine, they complain, they just freaking sit there and let themselves get killed when they know thIS IS THE SEVENTH TIME I’VE FAILED THIS STUPID ESCORT QUEST!!!
However, there are some damsels in distress who, no matter how useless, you just can’t help but love. Whether it’s their personality, rare displays of actual ability, or just something about the way they smile, you don’t care how many “another castle” shaped hoops you have to jump through. This damsel is getting saved.
1. Princess Peach – Super Mario
“I’m sorry your Princess is another Castle”
Is there anyone more of a classic video game example of the damsel in distress than Princess Peach of the Mushroom Kingdom. Nearly every single game that doesn’t involve Mario and crew exploring their latest hobby or extreme sport (Mario Party, Mario Kart, Mario Tennis, Mario Golf, Mario Baseball, etc.) instead has the plumber in red trying to rescue Princess Peach from Dragon-Turtle-Man Bowser. All the while Peach just sits around patiently waiting . . .
EXCEPT WHEN SHE DOESN’T! More recent, and even some older, games have empowered Peach and at times made her a playable character. As the heroine of her own story Peach actually proves to be a more likable and interesting character than Mario, and while she almost never manages to escape on her own, she does usually find a role in the plot by using her capture as a means to discover the villain’s evil plans from within. Now that’s my kind of princess!
2. Elizabeth – Bioshock Infinite
Oh Elizabeth, are you the damsel in distress or was it us all along? Of all the wonderful plot twistings and turnings that take place in Bioshock Infinite, who is really saving who is one of the greatest and most thought-provoking questions of them all. Booker DeWitt, former G-man, has been sent to the city in the sky, Columbia, in order to rescue Elizabeth from her imprisonment in an ivory tower (in exchange for some hard kee-ash of course). As the two journey through the city and unravel its secrets the bond that forms between jaded Booker and the innocent Elizabeth is one of the most well-written relationships in all of gaming.
Oh! And did I forget to mention she has ludicrously powerful magical abilities that allow her to travel between dimension, realities, and time. Yeah. Pretty handy to have around.
3. Princess Zelda – Legend of Zelda
The lady who needs no introduction, Princess Zelda is one bad-ass mother trucker. While certainly a damsel in distress, if only by the strictest definition at times, no one who has ever played a Zelda game will mistake her for anything being close to helpless. The only princess I know who has been both a ninja and a pirate, Zelda is often the central figure to stand against the evils that plaugeHyrule. Hers are the plans that Link follows to save the world, and often times they account for her own capture in order to stall Ganondorf. Zelda is a self-sacrificing and intellegent leader ready do whatever it takes to keep her people safe even if that means putting herself in some distress. Plus, she is a mean shot with some Light Arrows.
4. Aerith – Final Fantasy VII
Okay everybody, don’t cry on me. It’s been nearly twenty years. We need to move on. Aerith is proof that – spoilers – not all damsels get saved. Your classic naive and innocent character, Aerith is a sweet light of joy in and incredibly dreary world. Thanks to her love and kindness, and perhaps some less than human ancestry, she is the only one able to grow flowers in a city that is draining the literal life from the planet. She isn’t the best fighter, she isn’t the bravest heroine, and she isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, but she is certainly the nicest person you’ll ever meet. Not that you’ll get the chance to, thanks to number one asshat/prettiest boy on earth Sephiroth. What a dick.